Normal will be when Leadership and entrepreneurship are ColourFULL

The new normal will happen when leadership and entrepreneurship are ColourFULL

Wnitha Boney
As women of colour we believe that we deserve to be seen and heard for who we are.

We want a seat at the proverbial ‘table’ of leadership and entrepreneurship just like our fellow Anglo-Celtic female colleagues.

We don’t want tokenism. We want equality.

So, here is the challenge to you:

  1. If women of colour and leadership is important to you like you say it is;
  2. If you would like to know more about how you can create equality and opportunities for women of colour in your organisation;
  3. If you would like to be the solution, be involved with this community and create change;
  4. If you would like help with creating opportunity for yourself as a women of colour and advance your career or business;

Then read on to find out how……

The problem:

We are not exotic, beautiful creatures who are ‘ethnic’. Neither do we deserve to have our leadership skills, experience or capacity judged by our cultural background, or, to be held back by cultural nuances and beliefs. We are women with incredible agency, ambition, capacity and possibility.

We don’t want our cultural background or colour of our skin to define us. However, we are aware that it is what makes us rich, connects us, grounds us and makes us colourFULL. We want to embrace every part of who we are. Hair, culture and skin colour included.

We have the skills, education, experience, capacity, capability, drive and ambition that is needed for a successful career in leadership and entrepreneurship.

In addition, the ‘minority’ is quickly becoming the ‘majority’ in countries like the USA and Australia, affecting the marketplace and how we buy, sell, connect, engage, deliver and employ.

Yet women of colour experience even lower levels of equality in pay, leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities as opposed to our Anglo-Celtic female colleagues, and not to mention, men in general.

The Women in the Workplace 2018 report from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company stated that:

“Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level. For women of color, it’s even worse. Only about one in five senior leaders is a woman, and one in twenty-five is a woman of color. Progress isn’t just slow—it’s stalled.”

In 2017 the Diversity Council Australia released their report ‘cracking the glass-cultural ceiling’.

In this infographic, the results for women of colour speak for themselves:

See DCA for more.

The research is there. However, women of colour face many complexities that are often layered on the existing challenge (the disparity in leadership and entrepreneurship).

Sadhana Smiles, CEO of Harcourts Group Victoria wrote an article for Women’s Agenda in response to the above report. She wrote:

Firstly, I have had to break the cultural glass ceiling within my own community. I married a white man, never went to university, sent my kids to child care, went back to full time work, and then got divorced. Pretty normal if I was a white woman. However, as an Indian woman, I have been made to feel guilty on all these choices and labeled a bad wife and mother.Secondly, I have had to smash through the same glass ceilings and work much harder to prove my worth and capability – not just as a woman but as somebody of colour.

In an article for SBS, Tasneem also pointed out that:

“Challenges also prevail in dialogue within migrant Muslim communities with some men talking down to me, feeling the need to assert cultural dominance over ‘who speaks’ and ‘who listens’. To this end, fighting racism and patriarchy is sadly, my norm.”

Sadhana and Tasneem succinctly capture some of the cultural nuances and beliefs that can hold us back if we so choose it to, and opens up the conversation around the challenges that women of colour collectively face such as, dual identity and cultural community bias.

As a woman of colour, I can relate to this in some form.

I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when well meaning family members (many of which were born and brought up in western countries), are more interested in my marital status than my career. I have also been disappointed when colleagues (also women of colour) are not inclusive or dismissive of women from their community, as they do not recognise them as a ‘cultural equal’ because they are ‘half cast’.

I have also had many conversations about styling our hair in corporate settings with colleagues who would not style their hair in a certain way because of perceived cultural bias. I myself have never considered wearing a sari to a meeting which would be appropriate and ‘normal’ for many countries including mine (Sri Lanka). Maybe I should. After all, doesn’t multiculturalism go both ways?

So what is the solution for the advancement of women of colour? What do we need?

I often meet and mentor young bright women of colour and wonder what their career experiences and trajectories may be like in the future and for their daughters. I ask, who are their mentors and role models?

Is it clearly visible to them (and future generations) that women of colour are treated with equality? Can they clearly see women of colour equally highlighted and represented in the media and on speaking panels and conferences? Can they clearly see women of colour equally represented and treated in leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities? Women that they can look up to and aspire to be? Women like Shemara Wikramanayake, the daughter of a Sri Lankan migrant who is the first-ever female CEO of Macquarie Group?

Or is this a rarity let alone for women in general?

We need more role models who are women of colour, other than Oprah, Beyonce and Michelle Obama. Neither is it realistic for only a handful of women of colour to hold the weight and responsibility of us as a collective community for the sake of progress, equality and advancement.

We all need to step up and out and be apart of the solution.

Because, women of colour deserve to be equally represented in the media, on speaking panels, conferences and in leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities. And in order for this to happen we must make it so.

At this point in the conversation, some may question why we feel the need to even discuss race or identity. Tasneem Chopra, argued that:

“It never ceases to surprise me how racism causes discomfort to those who don’t experience it.

Erasing race from the conversation ignored discriminatory realities women of colour experience specifically – and asking us to not bring it up is the very reason it must be named. I cannot emphasise how emotionally exhausting these struggles are.

As women of colour, we do not lack agency or capacity, but rather, opportunity. It would appear the opportunities for success for women of colour are scant unless we are willing to fight for them or make enough noise that we ruffle some delicate institutional feathers….”

I agree with Tasneem. As humans, we see no issues with advocating for people and causes of which we are not or do not directly identify as. For example, animal rights, environmental causes, poverty and politics for some. On the flip side, I do not believe that as a community we should encourage tokenism by using cultural diversity as a ‘get out of jail card’ or to be given an opportunity.

We want to be seen, heard and valued for who we truly are. And yet, challenges must be overcome for the advancement and equality of women of colour.

These are all complex and seemingly paradoxical conversations.

As a community, we need to create and have the above conversations in a safe and nurturing space where we are heard, seen, valued and supported by each other. Spaces where women of colour can be recognised for their contributions and to be clearly seen as role models and mentors particularity for the younger generations.

In the words of Tasneem, let’s not wait for the proverbial table of leadership and entrepreneurship and instead create our own table.

As I always say, “action comes before motivation, creates anti-fragility and opportunity, beats the odds and allows for emergence”.

So let’s do it. Let’s collectively create change for the advancement of each other and be the solution not just create one.

Let’s start a conference by us and for us.

A way forward to advance women of colour:

ColourFULL 2019 is a conference created by and for women of colour. The conference will focus on programs and initiatives such as sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and an aim to create a membership-based community and private network for the advancement of women of colour in leadership and entrepreneurship.

The conference will feature an awards ceremony, recognising remarkable women of colour who are taking the lead socially, culturally and professionally and highlighting them as inspiring role models.

This conference is also for Diversity and Inclusion individuals, managers and leaders of organisations who are interested in the advancement of women of colour and would like to hear robust conversations and keynotes from this incredible community firsthand.

If you would like to know how your organisation can close the gap for women of colour or adapt to the future of work, please email [email protected]. Or alternatively, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us via the email above and we will reply promptly.

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